Friday, December 13, 2013

Blame It On the Rain

Deflection is an art.  We can really get great at showcasing our ability to deflect responsibility and avoid consequences.  In my life, I have known people who were great at this.  Some might even say I know how to do this well.  Perhaps they are right, but it seems to be such a requirement in the workplace that likely I've adopted methodology.

Remember when Milli Vanilli were caught lip-syncing.  And then we found out they didn't sing the songs that they won Grammys for.  And then they were embarrassed.  And then they blamed the record company.  And then they blamed the pressure to succeed.  (And then they released a demo of them actually singing? Just awful, by the way)  Lots of blame being tossed around. 

And why?  Why is this the norm?  Maybe some of it comes from the overbearing nature of some moms and dads (it's always about mom and dad, isn't it?).  "Little Jimmy" could do no wrong in school ("it was that lousy teacher"), in sports ("the coach never gave him a chance") or in his first job ("it's the summer and they wanted him to work 8 hours in one day...the nerve!").  Mom and Dad could have meant well, but instead shut off the ability to fail, to stumble, to learn from his/her mistakes.

Maybe it's because our society doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.  I work with many companies that are corporately held in another country.  When those CEO's engage with US workers, they notice how quickly feelings are hurt.  It's an oddity to most of them.  Are we too sensitive?  Maybe.  I mean, just because I still cry at the end of every repeat episode of Touched By An Angel doesn't make me sensitive, right?  But I digress...

It's not unusual for an employee to blame another employee or a process as the reasons why something didn't work or why he/she was unable to complete a task appropriately.  There may very well be truth to what that employee shares, but does it excuse the employee from getting the job done?  Some companies that have stagnated find themselves making excuses along with employees as to why things aren't working.  We think that more policies, more parameters, more rules, more goals, more more more will motivated change in process, in employee attitude, in results.  OK, America, how's that working out?

If you don't like that your employees do it, have you checked to see if they are learning by example?  Of course, this is not going to be the case in all situations.  There is some tough love needed with some employees.  They need to know that it's not okay to just wait for everything to be fixed before they work harder, smarter, better.  They have to be accountable to their performance.  If something is not right, what have they done to bring it to the right channels or, even more so, to try to correct it?  We want to encourage innovation, critical thought and a healthy work ethic.

But sometimes, as I said, the company leadership has fallen into an excuse-laden mode of operation.  Once we find the right people, things will get better.  Once the new product line is tested, we will start to make money.  Once the economy changes, we will be in better shape.  I cannot tell you how many CEO's have said or thought that a new political party in power would change everything.  It's not Bush's fault your company isn't working out nor is it Obama's fault.  Of course there are things we wish they had done differently to help US companies, but regardless, it's the company leadership's responsibility to make things work in the context of what is, not in what's wished for.

Survey the environment, study the competition, take financial management courses, work with whatever it takes to make your company great.  If you are a business leader, take that role seriously and expect it to be hard.  If you are an employee, figure out ways to make your job work the way it ought to so that you can achieve the results expected. 

For all of us, life is not about waiting for things to work out.  You probably won't hit the lottery.  You probably won't retire at 40.  You probably won't get your way in everything.  So what does that mean?  Blame?  For our company?  For our spouse?  For our children?  For our parents?  Really, think.  What does that get us?

Be committed to excellence, not blame.  Be willing to own what you are not doing well and then decide to change.  Seek help.  Seek collaboration.  Seek ingenuity.  We're much better than blame.  Divert those energies into something remarkably positive.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Don't You Forget About Me

Comcast is pushing its new Streampix movie and television show catalog.  There are promos aplenty with much of it being TV commercials.  And its primary movie of choice to play in the background of the announcer's messaging is "The Breakfast Club."  This movie debuted in early 1985.  It's 2013 (barely).  A movie almost 29 years old is the primary movie of appeal for current streaming consumers?  Apparently.

This movie has been shown hundreds of times on TBS and the like.  It's sold thousands of VHS and DVD copies.  And it continues to sell.  So why?  For those of you familiar with my deep love for Molly Ringwald, I will leave that aside as a reason (hard for me to do).  Part of the appeal is the nostalgia of the 80's.  Those of us who hit their teens sometime during that decade find that this movie, perhaps more than any other, defines our generation.  The characters struggle with identity and their place in the world.  The peer pressure, the temptations of life, the masks needed to be worn, the inadequacy of self - all of these are themes, still relevant today.

It's brilliant, actually, that Comcast is using it.  The movie is a microcosm of life beyond the teenage years.  Many of us work in places where we have to mask ourselves and pretend that all is well when it very much is not.  And, to be clear, this is not necessarily an indictment on the workplace or company; it may be that your continued poor view of self haunts your everyday existence and causes you to maintain appearances using all of your energy.  Letting your guard down is not an option and perhaps there is no real outlet for it.

I am aware that counseling is available for the deeper issues; some companies have rather robust EAP's or even in-house professionals.  However, the reality is that most of us won't use those available services or seek outside help for what we would call "it's just how I am."  Going home after work and popping on "The Breakfast Club" while crying might be all the therapy needed.  I have experienced workplaces where the demand is great and the care for people is not.  I have also been at workplaces where the care for people is high, but the facade to be okay and participate with others is crushing.  Not everyone is the "kum ba yah" type to be okay with HR's latest and greatest team building program.  HR can encourage, albeit unintentionally, poor self-esteem (I can't do what these people can do), dishonesty (a lack of people being able to be genuine) or compartmentalization (I need to work a certain way and fit into a certain box).

Let's not be offended by this.  Let that go.  It's not about you.  It's about the companies we work for and the employees we serve.  So, ask yourself, what have I forgotten about people that I need to re-learn?  Take some time to consider your company to jar your memory.  Does peer pressure still exist at work?  Is it positive in that it's about performance and cultural health? Or is it about high school groupings all over again?  Who are the Cool Crowd and how do they keep the Dorks out?  How do people sit in the breakroom?  Look, this is just one stream of thought - there are MANY to consider.  But we ought to think about the Ally Sheedy's and Anthony Michael Hall's of our companies.  Where do they fit and are they fitting well?  Don't forget about them.

And yet, I would also submit that the Molly Ringwald's and Emilio Estevez's don't have it all together either. And sometimes, we in HR feed those roles and allow little room for them to say, "Enough!"  We build programs around the funny guys, rather than around significant content. so that we get a visceral response to affirm our own existence at work - close your mouth and don't pretend to be shocked.  I have seen this done numerous times and I am sure it will continue.  It's the same line of thinking around some who desire to be seen as "experts" or "thought leaders."  Posting and re-tweeting "smart" stuff doesn't really make you either an expert or a leader (ouch).

I am driven to always come back to the people we serve.  We have to consider all of them and how they fit together.  "The Breakfast Club" works well because we see the roles each one plays, the walls come down and true relationship emerges, but here's the reality - they went back to school on Monday and assuredly re-acclimated to their role.  They may hate it, but they do it.  Adults do it, too.  

Fitting in and finding your place means something to every person (don't even pretend it doesn't - even non-conformists hang out with other non-conformists).  Individual identity is precious and should be encouraged to be explored.  If you read biographies about some of the great business leaders, you'll see struggles dealt with in these areas for each and the way in which they were fostered through it.  We can consider this as we develop our programs and benefits, yes, but more so in our messaging and our recognition language.  

How do all of the pieces fit?  That's our job to study.  We are to create environments that will allow every person to be free to be the skillful, collaborative person we've hired.  That's what our companies pay for and that's what we need them to be.  And each person has a role.  Don't forget about any one of them.